Coincidences, the number 50 and one small lie to wrap things up nicely

Fifty is an amazing number. The ol’ half-century, the big fiddy, the… uh…

Wow. There is a gaping dearth of slang terms for the big five-oh. Strange, because it’s such an amazing number.

Fifty is the number of cents it apparently takes to be a famous rapper. It’s approximately the number of awful new TV shows that my girlfriend discovers and tortures me with every month. If they walked that many miles, The Proclaimers would’ve been a tenth of the way to that door they’d so eagerly fall at. Unless they walked five hundred more.

Most notably – for me, anyway – is that fifty is the score I shot when I played nine holes of golf this weekend past at Green Fairways.

I’m not a great golfer. I’m not even a good golfer. My swing bears an uncanny resemblance to a drunken man trying to hold onto a greased broomstick as he falls down a flight of stairs. But I love playing. About a year after I started playing, I was shooting sub-fifty scores over nine holes. That was nearly 15 years ago. The memories of those rounds have haunted me since; a reminder of the dizzying heights of not-altogether-crap-ness that I might have eventually scaled if I had spent more time on the course. I believed then – and still, perhaps deludedly, do now – that deep down inside me, there is a round of 80 just waiting to be be unleashed on an unsuspecting course. An easy course, of course. But that’s golf for you: the 87 god-awful shots you hit in your last round weren’t nearly as indicative of your true potential as the 19 that went straight and didn’t take four minutes of searching through knee-high grass to find.

That’s why I was happy when I shot 50 last weekend, the first time I’ve done so since I stopped playing regularly around ten years ago. Funny coincidence, that…

Back then, I was at my local muni at least three times a week. I lacked a steady supply of funds at that time but I was always desperate to play so I often spent hours chipping and pitching for free on the practice green, the one that had a small “No chipping or pitching” sign that I never seemed to notice till I was done. After a year of conscientious devotion, I became distracted by work, family and the sheer thrill of wasting time frivolously. Eventually, I was reduced to playing once every couple of months, sometimes less. I eventually hit a spell where I didn’t own clubs and went for an entire year without playing. But, despite the lack of effort, I loved playing. Still do.

After shooting 10 on the first hole last weekend – blech – I hit a short but decent five wood that split the very narrow fairway on the 214m second hole, pulling up just short of the bunker sitting rudely in the middle of the fairway up near the green. My mud-splattered ball led to a poor pitch which left me a couple of metres off the green and about five metres from the flag. My third shot was one of those that came off the club so sweetly that I just knew it was going to give me something to get mildly upset over later when my girlfriend, who cares little about golf but loves me enough to at least feign interest rather poorly, would probably feign interest a little more poorly than I would’ve liked. The ball steadily rolled its way to the hole and ended up rattling inside the cup.

Birdie.

It was the second strange coincidence of the day because, while I can recall quite a few chips-ins during those glorious first couple of years of playing – I can recall every single one of them, actually – I haven’t done it since I stopped practicing avidly.

On the next hole, a very short par-three, my tee shot landed about eight feet right of the flag, safely in the centre of the green where I had aimed it, but an unseen ridge steered it gently towards the hole and, for a few exhilarating seconds, it threatened to go in. It would’ve been the first hole-in-one of my life. Golfers know that a hole in one is 99% luck but that wouldn’t have stopped me from having an engraving on my headstone commemorating the moment: “Here lies a dingy hacker on whose arse the sun once shined as he scored a hole-in-one at a course in Singapore you’ve never heard of.”

Birdies to poor golfers are like sedated, pre-plucked tweety birds to hungry puddy tats. I was happy to snag one, but two? I was elated. I don’t think I’ve had back-to-back birdies in a decade which is, coincidentally, around the same time that I stopped practicing avidly. The coincidences are piling up…

I had a so-so round off the tee after that but my short game and my short irons held up in much the same way that a man with a water pistol holds up a service station. I ended up on the ninth green with a five foot putt for a shaky 49. Nervous about shooting a sub-50 round for the first time in over a decade, I missed by an inch. I happily settled for my first 50 in a very long time.

I feel rejuvenated! I want to practice again and work on my game. I’m excited and ready to spoil a few good walks with more sub-fifty (forty, even?) rounds. I feel like bumping my monthly hack up to a weekly bash with time around the practice green on the side but I’ll be going back to Green Fairways because golf in Singapore is expensive. But a round of golf at Green Fairways? It only costs – you guessed it – $50.

Strange coincidence, no?

Post-script: the round of golf actually cost $55 but that would’ve made for a pretty poor ending to this post. But the rest is true. Trust me, no one would ever actually lie about being as bad at golf as I am. 

Golf, too many mind and three important life lessons

This post isn’t entirely about golf. I guess golf is just the medium through which I learned three very valuable lessons last weekend. So even if you’re not an avid golfer, read on.

I love playing golf. I also hate playing golf. Anyone who has stuck with it for any amount of time will know what I’m talking about. When you’re not playing, you’re looking forward to your next round eagerly. And when you’re finally playing again and ready to tee off on the first hole, you’re excited. Then you hit your first shot.

You then spend the next four hours swearing crassly enough to make Gordon Ramsey blush as you angrily hack your way from hole to hole, cursing those masochistic Scots for having created what is without doubt the most frustrating pastime in the history of man. Afterwards, you hit the clubhouse and enthusiastically plan your next round over a few beers. Sounds crazy but golf is hard so all you need are one or two good shots, buried like gold nuggets somewhere beneath a mountain of dismal efforts, to bring you back again.

My girlfriend spoiled me on my birthday last weekend with a night at the Banyan Tree resort on Bintan Island, a one-hour ferry ride from Singapore. We had an opulent little villa with a spectacular view.

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Yes, that’s a plunge pool on our deck. Banyan Tree’s villas are awesome.

As if that wasn’t enough, my amazing woman went one step further, organizing a round of golf at Ria Bintan, my favourite course and the scene of my undie-soiling encounter with a crazed, hungry monkey. It’s an award-winning course, challenging but immaculately kept and very easy on the optic nerve.

The view from the club house.

The stunning view from Ria Bintan’s club house. Golf courses are always nice places. This one is gorgeous.

Banyan Tree has its own course called Laguna Bintan. When we arrived, my girlfriend suggested I play a practice round of nine holes there before hitting Ria Bintan the next day. What a chick…

Quick lesson for non-golfers: par is the number of shots a good player should be able to finish a hole in. A bogey is one shot over par. Finish a par-five hole in five shots and you’ve shot par. Finish it in six and it’s a bogey.

The round at Laguna was uneventful until the sixth hole, a par five. I’d made it two hundred metres up the fairway after three terrible shots. I should’ve made that distance on my first shot. My fourth shot hit a tree branch hanging over the fairway and ricocheted into the jungle. Feeling a sudden urge to snap every club in my bag, I figured I should relax and concentrate on the task at hand. I put my cigarette out in my empty beer can and took my next shot. The ball, disgusted by my pathetic swing, traveled fifteen metres before refusing to move any further. Feeling a sudden urge to snap every club in someone else’s bag, I grabbed my cold beer and took a nice, long swig to calm me down. It wasn’t until I felt the cigarette butt sloshing around in my mouth that I realized that I’d put it in my full can, not the empty one. Spitting Tiger beer and a Dunhill butt onto the middle of the fairway, I spouted every swear word in my lexicon. I may have even made up a few (‘funt’ is going to catch on, trust me). I poured the remainder of my beer into the grass, one of the only two I had. I could taste cigarette butt. I wasn’t exactly happy. I ended up scoring a ten on that hole. If you’re unfamiliar with golf, a score of ten on one hole is as bad as it gets. At this point, I had pretty much had it. “Funt it,” I thought, “stop worrying and have some fun.”

Views

Some holes at Ria Bintan are bordered by beaches and the ocean views are spectacular.

On the very next hole, my fourth shot was an eight foot putt which went in for par. Cheering!

I remembered to stay positive the next day at Ria Bintan. I shot a ten on the first hole, a tricky par five. Determined not to let the rest of my round fall apart, I got onto the next tee and thought of that line in The Last Samurai where Tom Cruise’s character, Captain Algren, was being beaten by his opponent when practicing his sword technique. Nobutada, the young samurai, gave him some advice, telling him “Too many mind. Mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind enemy. Too many mind… No mind.” So I cleared my head. “No mind,” I told myself. I had a zen moment: I visualized my first shot reaching the green 135 metres away. I pictured myself making two decent putts for par. I pictured a quiet, proud fist pump before moving onto the next hole. And that’s exactly what I did.

No mind... no mind....

No mind… no mind….

After that par, I shot four bogeys in a row which, for non-golfers, means one shot over par. To good golfers, that might sound terrible but for a hacker like me, it’s pretty good. I was on a roll. I finished the front nine with a score of 53, the best round I’d played in a long time. It’s not a score that good players aspire to but Ria Bintan is a tough course and if not for that score of ten on the first hole, I could’ve shot 50 instead of 53. I was thinking positively. Maybe I’m not the worst player ever, I told myself.

The green at the 8th hole is surrounded by ocean. Sounds nice, but overshoot it and you’ll suffer a eunuch’s fate: balls will be lost.

The player behind me caught up to me at the tenth hole so I invited him to play with us. He was a great guy but as far as my performance goes, it was a bad move because for me, golf is like peeing: it’s harder when someone you don’t know well is watching.

From there, my game went downhill faster than a seven pound slab of double Gloucester cheese at Cooper’s Hill.

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Go, little seven pound slab of Double Gloucester Cheese at Cooper’s Hill! Go!

Still, the player – let’s call him Sean, mainly because that’s his real name – was a nice guy. Sean, my girlfriend and I got along really well and had an enjoyable round. And my fall from the dizzying heights of ‘not-the-worst-player-ever’ didn’t affect me much. I had quite a few good shots on the front nine and I was happy.

Besides, it was my birthday and my girlfriend gave me an amazing birthday present by taking us to Bintan and booking in the rounds of golf. I heard a saying the other day: “Happy people are not always grateful but grateful people are always happy”.

I was grateful for the three lessons I learnt that day:

1. I have an awesome girlfriend. I already knew that so I guess that lesson is for you, dear reader. The lesson I learned is that being grateful for her makes me happy to be with her every day.

2. Think positively and good things are more likely to happen. Shut out the unnecessary. No mind…

3. Dunhill sangrias (cigarette butts floating in beer) are to be avoided at all costs. They are funting funted.